Stephen King's The Stand

The Stand: A Long, Strange Trips

Writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa looks back on the apocalyptic THE STAND: CAPTAIN TRIPS limited series and teases what’s ahead

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By Sean T. Collins Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa has spent the past few months unleashing hell on Earth. As the writer charged with adapting Stephen King's novel "The Stand" to comic book form, he and artist Mike Perkins have let loose a plague of biblical proportions—and for both the characters and the readers of THE STAND: CAPTAIN TRIPS, the first limited series in this epic adaptation, the worst is yet to come. Aguirre-Sacasa took some time off from his busy schedule of wiping out humanity (and working on HBO's "Big Love") to describe the experience so far, tease the arrival of the series' arch villain, and even offer a glimpse at THE STAND: AMERICAN NIGHTMARES, the second and even more shocking Stand series.
 

THE STAND:
CAPTAIN TRIPS
#5 preview art
by Mike Perkins

Marvel.com: The end of THE STAND: CAPTAIN TRIPS is fast approaching. Looking back, how does it feel to have destroyed America? Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa: You know, it's funny. Adapting "The Stand" is such a huge undertaking—1,200 pages, all these characters—that when you asked me that, I'm like, "Oh my God, I guess that is what we did!" But part of the brilliance of the book is how quietly and methodically it starts in terms of introducing the characters and introducing Captain Trips into their world. In a weird way, the end of the world sneaks up on you. Now that I look at it, I go "I guess that's what we did," but at the time it felt like what we were doing was just meeting the people we were gonna go on this journey with, and it just so happened that some of them had the sniffles. Now, though, when you look at the whole canvas you see, indeed, America has been destroyed. I really do credit Stephen King with deciding when he sat down to write this novel that the first thing he was gonna do was kill 99.9% of the population. What's nice is that in my comics, with my super hero stuff, I tell pretty human, grounded, character-driven stories. "The Stand" has all that, but against the canvas of this huge disaster. I feel like we won't get the full effect of just how destroyed and decimated the country is [until the next limited series], THE STAND: AMERICAN NIGHTMARES, which I'm writing right now. That's where you really feel that America has been completely wiped out except for these few survivors. You see a sequence of nothing but empty streets littered with corpses, and you finally get the sense of, "Wow, the people who survived this are alone—and they're in trouble." Marvel.com: Reading the novel or the comic can put you in a really paranoid frame of mind, both about the superflu and the government cover-up of it. What is it like to be in that headspace as you work on the adaptation? Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa: First of all, I personally am very germ-phobic, so all this stuff about the coughing and the mucus and the superflu is pretty nerve-wracking to me. I have to say that what's incredibly disturbing to me about the book is the government cover-up and the breakdown of society—which I think, unfortunately, King is completely spot-on about [in terms of] how quickly things would completely degenerate and devolve. The depictions of man versus man and what the people do to each other once they're sick or once they've survived is chilling to me. We get a lot of that in [CAPTAIN TRIPS] #5, which is the issue that focuses on Flagg, but also on the last death rattles of the country. You see what

THE STAND:
CAPTAIN TRIPS
#5 preview art
by Mike Perkins

people are doing to each other, what the government is doing. You've gotten a glimpse of that already in issue #3, when the reporter and photographer from the Texas newspaper are silenced. That, to me, is what's really chilling. What's a comfort is that Stephen King does balance that with features of goodness. But we haven't quite gotten to that yet, you know what I mean? I mean, they're there, but nothing good has started to happen. [Laughs] We'll get to that. Later on, Stuart has a conversation where another character says to him, "Every two or three thousand years, there's a great purging that happens." He mentions the Biblical flood, the Ice Age—things that kind of wash society clean. There's a sense that there is some good out there, but right now, we're looking at the worst of the world, unfortunately. Marvel.com: It hasn't been easy on the main characters we've met so far. Stu, Fran, Nick, Larry, even Lloyd—some have seen their loved ones get sick, some have ended up behind bars in one way or another, some have even survived attempts on their lives… Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa: The first issue of AMERICAN NIGHTMARES will be pretty bleak for our characters. They're burying their dead, it's really sinking in. But it's also when the characters start finding each other and coming together. Right now, they're all on parallel tracks but not really intersecting. Fran's going through her personal trauma in Maine, Larry's going through his in New York, Stuart's in the CDC, Lloyd's in jail. They're kind of on their own while this is happening. Over the course of the second series, they start finding each other. What's interesting and fun is that when they start making connections, you don't know if those connections are going to be with good people or bad people. Not everyone who survives the plague is good. Not even necessarily all of the main characters we're following are completely good. One of the things that Stephen King sets up so brilliantly is the character of Larry. There's a lot of bad and pettiness in Larry, and he really can go either way, depending on what side lands him. So it starts to pick up in that way. And all it takes is destroying the entire world in the first series for things to get really good in the second series. [Laughs] Marvel.com: Of course, not all of the characters in CAPTAIN TRIPS make it out alive. Do you get attached to these characters, and is it difficult knowing what lies ahead for them? Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa: The first time I read "The Stand" when I was 12 or 13, I had a very visceral, emotional response to the last third of the book and what happens to some of the characters. So of course you get attached to them, and I'd say I'm

THE STAND:
CAPTAIN TRIPS
#5 preview art
by Mike Perkins

getting more attached in working on this than I would if I were just reading it. But the wheels are set in motion—you've gotta honor the story, you've gotta honor the vision. I love these characters; I'm not happy about putting them through the wringer, but unfortunately that's the way the cookie crumbles. Marvel.com: One very major player we haven't seen much of yet is on his way—Randall Flagg. What do you think is most important to get across Flagg when you introduce him? When you've already got a disease that's wiped out 99.9% of the population, what can your villain do for an encore? Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa: We're following the book pretty closely, but obviously there's some streamlining and restructuring that's happening to tell the story visually in the amount of space we have. Now, in Stephen King's canon, Flagg is the ultimate villain. Versions of him pop up in other novels. In the Stephen King Universe, he's Thanos—the ultimate badass. One of the things I felt really strongly about was that we have to give him an entrance and build up to it a bit, getting some anticipation going. I didn't think we should blow our wad too soon with him. One of the reasons I thought that was good is that he's really a mythic character. He's just a guy...and he's also the personification of every evil you've ever met. That is Flagg. He is the disease. He is the personification of the breakdown of society. He is very much an agent of chaos. He is everything that's bad crystallized into one form. We really wanted to capture that, give the devil his due, and give him his own issue as an introduction to him. Rather than tease him out piecemeal, we thought, "Let's save it for the fifth issue and really put him center stage." But once he's in the thing, he's all over the place. One of the reasons the second [series] is called AMERICAN NIGHTMARES is because everyone is really, really feeling his presence. He's going to start intersecting with our main cast pretty darn soon. Initially, Mike [Perkins] had the idea that we were never gonna see Flagg's face. It's a cool idea, but eventually we figured out it might not actually work, because he was going to have to talk to and interact with other characters. But keeping him a man of mystery for as long as possible is really smart. And Mike's been chomping at the bit—every piece of promotional art you've seen for THE STAND has been Flagg, somehow. It was nice to finally get him into the series.

THE STAND:
CAPTAIN TRIPS
#5 preview art
by Mike Perkins

Marvel.com: 2008 is the 30th anniversary of the original release of "The Stand," and the expanded and revised edition came out in 1990. Times have changed since King wrote this story. How do you think the story connects with the America of today? Do you think we'd handle a crisis like this better or worse than we might have back then? Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa: That's a good question. Without getting too political, when [President-elect Barack] Obama was elected, the one thing my friends and I were saying was, "Pray God this brings out the best in our country. Pray God this is signaling a big change and that things are going to start getting better." You want to believe the best, you know what I mean? So what I want to say to you is that we'd handle such a crisis in a much more humanitarian, much more truthful, much more proactive way. Unfortunately, I think one of the themes Stephen King wanted to illuminate in this was what happens when society collapses—a total devolution that brings out the worst in people. Part of why he wanted to show that, I think, is that you hope that art allows you to illuminate and understand something. "The Stand" was about trying to understand what would happen in that worst-case scenario, and unfortunately, in trying to understand that, I believe there would be some of that stuff still. You see glimmers of it when there are smaller catastrophes and disasters. But then again, you do see people coming together and rallying. Also, Stephen King was writing in a very angry time in this country, and he was writing a horror story—I don't think you could get a 1,200 page book out of society being fine. So if something happened on the scale of "The Stand"? I don't know how we would respond. I want to believe that it would bring out the best in us, but there's a part of me that's fearful that it would be closer to what Stephen King showed us. Marvel.com: How would you describe your experience with THE STAND so far? Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa: I'm having a really great time working on this. One of the reasons I'm having such a great time working on this is because we've got such a great team. I think each issue is at the A-level—everyone's giving their best to it. Here we've got great material, a great editorial team, a great artist, a great colorist. I'm really proud of it. I hope people are enjoying the ride, and I think if they haven't gotten on the ride, issue #5, the Flagg issue, is a great place to come aboard. I hope people give it a shot, because it's one of the classic stories. And Mike Perkins—people always say "He's turning in the art of his career," but he really is turning in the art of his career on this! [Laughs]

THE STAND:
CAPTAIN TRIPS
#5 cover
by Lee Bermejo

For a bunch of my friends, they've already read the novel, and they say it really is a new experience for them reading the adaptation as it comes out. I think the story is a timeless classic, and I'm really honored to be working on it. And Marvel is really smartly investing in this project. Hopefully it will be a way to experience THE STAND forever, with a shelf life as long as the one the novel has had. Especially if we maintain the quality we've had so far, which I think we are, all systems go. It's not often that I sign up to do adaptations, because I usually have my own stuff. But this novel? This is one of the biggies. THE STAND: CAPTAIN TRIPS #5 wraps this chapter of the saga on January 28. For more, visit Marvel.com's Stand hub. Check out the official Marvel Shop for the best mighty Marvel merchandise!

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